In a repeat of the 2008 SAFF Championship final, defending champions Maldives lock horns with a youthful India in the title decider of the Bangabandhu SAFF Championship 2009 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium at 7:00 pm on Sunday.
This is the third final between Maldives and India after the latter’s 5-1 victory in the inaugural event in Kathmandu in 1997. It’s now time for India to seek revenge after being removes as SAFF kings last year in Colombo where Maldives triumphed 1-0 to clinch their maiden SAFF title.
Both the teams showed tremendous improvement on way to the final with the holders scoring 11 goals in four matches. India with a U-23 team lost to Maldives 2-0 in the group stage but proved their worth with a dominating 1-0 victory over hosts Bangladesh.
Maldives will be looking forward to retain the title riding upon their mercurial skipper Ali Ashfaq and his striking partner Ahmed Thoriq. Nasser Mukhtar who scored the 87th-minute winner in the final last year will also carry the torch of the defending champions. Another attacking lynchpin of Maldives Ibrahim Fazeel’s chance to take the field is low due to an injury but the team physio said he is recovering fast.
On the other hand India rely heavily on custodian Arindam Bhattacharya as a stone-wall against their opponents’ attacking aspirations. Skipper Sushil Kumar will welcome back Balwant Singh as his attacking partner as Balwant returns after a one-match ban.
Maldives coach Istvan Urbanyi is confident that the final against India will be a tough test for the defending champions. Urbanyi also hit back to the saying that Indian team got kids is a big joke.
“If we can show the performance we have shown so far we are confident that we could repeat it, we came here to be in the final and we did it, our strikers are in form and that’s a big thing, final is a big event and we are not focusing upon the past rather we are looking forward to win the title,” said the Hungarian.
“It’s not going to be the same match as the one played in the group stage. The final is going to be tough game for us but we are ready,” said Urbanyi.
Urbanyi was not bothered about the unavailability of Ibrahim Fazeel.
“Fazeel is an important player in our attack. He has scored two goals in the semifinal. So it has been a huge blow for us. But we have 20 players in the squad and we could utilize another player,” concluded Urbanyi.
India coach Sukhwinder Singh believed the past results between Maldives and India will not help any side in the final.
“In football, the past results do not help. I think it will not be the same when we go out to face Maldives in the finals. When we faced Maldives in the group stage, we had our key players missing from the line up. Now we are in full strength,” said Indian coach.
Sukhwinder is also happy to be in the final with a team consisting of young players.
“It is nice to be in the finals with the young boys, we are improving a lot. If we maintain that we would be on the winning side.”
Sukhwinder was praising his players. “We finished three matches without conceding a goal. So why not mention that. The most important thing is to create chances and to use them”
He also expressed confidence about holding out the Maldives onslaught led by Ashfaq. “Football is not 100 meter sprint, it is team game and success is the result of the perfect teamwork, I think we can handle the Maldives attack and we definitely have some plans,” said Sukhwinder.